A Career in Healing
Before coming here to Nechi, I was Executive Director of Siksika Healing and Wellness Center, and that offers treatment for Siksika members.
And a part of our programming that we had was programs on mental health, FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome), family violence, residential school and a AADAC (Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission) program which is to look at assisting people with alcohol and drug abuse issues.
When I began at the healing center in Siksika, there was no mental health that was developed, nor was there a crisis unit and with the team work that we did, we were able to establish that with the current issues that we were dealing with, the high rate of suicide in young people, and it was really a honour to work with some people from the States.
We established this program GONA (Gathering Of Native Americans) but that turned in to GOSH, an acronym for Gathering Of Siksika Healing and what that was, is we approached the government, the provincial government of Canada.
We asked them if they were willing to accept a proposal on a program in Sisksika that we wanted to do for the community and we began off with by doing something called “Trainer for Trainers”, and training other people to do this type of work within their own communities within the nation and there were about fourteen different communities on the Siksika nation.
We trained one-hundred volunteers and from that we had on-going meetings about how we were going to work with the communities and the programs we could deliver, how we can network and be more resourceful to the people.
As a result of that, I want to share with you a miracle that happened in the early 60’s when the liquor laws were open to our people.
There was a tavern which is in Glecian, which is across the tracks from our reserve. What happened was we had tried to get this thing going on two separate occasions and it didn’t work out and the third time we tried we were able to get it going, for that training was starting on Monday and that Saturday. There was a memorial service that we host for the community and then someone came in and said, “You guys have to come outside, look. That building's on fire." So we did.
We walked out and it was the old tavern and it was called the Queen’s Hotel and it was amazing. That building burnt from five in the afternoon until ten or eleven at night before it was burnt right to the ground, and this was a tavern.
There was a bunch of people that were parked outside there watching it, and even the fire fighters couldn’t even put it out. And it was amazing to see that sign fall which said, "Queen’s Hotel," and to see that sign fall and to say the Queen has fell, and it was very empowering for a lot of people and to know that on a spiritual sense, to know that with the work that we were going to accomplish that week.
That was just a sign to show us, this is what’s coming and it just felt very powerful and was so empowering and a lot of people did healing that week as a result of that, and talked about it and how it affected many generations, going back to the 60’s when the liquor laws was opened and how that affected our people and how they were trying to change the pattern and so I felt so impressed with that and that was our accomplishment that we did together as a community.
And some of the other projects that we developed was the mental health component. It's to have a mental health therapist. We were also looking at having a Psychiatrist and a Psychiatric Nurse so that we can assist our clients right there in the community because a lot of times I learnt through my work is that when you transfer a client from an isolated community into an urban setting, there's a lot of fear around that, there's a lot of fear around trust and when they're put in a hospital setting they’re not familiar with the system. They don’t know who they're dealing with and so there's some fear there and also having a comfort of knowing there are First Nations people that do speak their language and talk about what they're going through and be there to assess those issues and how to find recommendations to heal.
So that’s been ongoing know for three years and it been really powerful. A lot of people are now coming on their own for that support of help. As for the FAS there has been, I understand that Siksika became kind of a model for First Nations communities in regard to FAS literature, FAS training models of how to treat First Nations and they established a multi-disciplinary team and that looked at, you got your doctors, you got your consultants, you got your trainers that deals specifically with FAS and then we got some other community agencies that participate in that assessment and process to treat or help these individuals with FAS or FAE (fetal alcohol effects) so its really been an awesome experience and I really enjoyed learning that and working with my own community.
And the most ironic thing about this all is when I first started, where my office was, that’s where the foundation of my house was when I grew up as a child. And I ended up going back and being a director. Little did I know that I had left the reserve prior to that for fourteen years and when I went back and when I was sitting at my desk and I was thinking to myself, “I was raised here, I grew up here, right on this spot, and I’m actually helping out in this field, where I grew up,” so it was really very insightful for me and also very empowering.
The following stories are by Warren Winnipeg.
This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections Initiative, Industry Canada.